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Originally published May 5, 2011 at 5:12 PM | Page modified May 5, 2011 at 5:13 PM

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Movie review

Jodie Foster's 'The Beaver': an odd but heartfelt tale

Jodie Foster's "The Beaver" is a sad, heartfelt tale of a family in crisis and a hand puppet of a beaver central to the story. The film is playing at the Egyptian and at Lincoln Square.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'The Beaver,' with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones, Riley Thomas Stewart. Directed by Foster, from a screenplay by Kyle Killen. 93 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference. Egyptian, Lincoln Square.

quotes Speaking only through a hand puppet? Convinced only the hand puppet understands him... Read more
quotes Like another poster said, I could careless about Mels private life, it's not like he is... Read more
quotes Sorry but this sounds absolutely dreadful. I have enough Family Crisis in my own life... Read more

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Despite its quirky title, Jodie Foster's "The Beaver" is a sad, heartfelt tale of a family in crisis. Its main character (Mel Gibson) is introduced in voice-over as "Walter Black, a hopelessly depressed individual." Everyone in the Black household struggles with Walter's illness: wife Meredith (Foster), trying to keep the family together; teenage son Porter (Anton Yelchin), determined to erase any trait within him that's like his dad; 7-year-old son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), wondering why nobody's happy.

Cue the entrance of a vaguely sinister-looking beaver hand puppet, which propels this story into a different zone: Walter, convinced that only this puppet understands him, begins expressing himself only through the beaver, walking through life (even the shower) with the puppet on his hand. This attracts media attention — Walter had been an executive at a toy company — and further distresses the family, leading the story to a sort of puppet catharsis and an eventual father-and-son reunion.

None of this sounds as if it should work for a second as drama, so great credit goes to Foster and the cast for keeping the story small, quiet and often very moving. It's hard to watch Gibson without thinking of his off-camera notoriety (a line in the film — "People seem to love a train wreck, when it's not happening to them" — hits a little close to home), but the actor turns in a beautifully controlled performance here — funny when it needs to be, heartbreaking when it doesn't. Foster, directing for the first time since 1995, also shows a fine touch with the young actors (among them Jennifer Lawrence of "Winter's Bone"). "The Beaver" as a film is an odd little creature, like the puppet at its center, but its ultimate message is unexpectedly sweet: When struggling, we don't need to be alone.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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